When it comes to creating a will, one major decision you’ll need to make is who to choose as your executor. The executor for your will is your personal representative—someone who will be in charge of implementing your wishes.
In Singapore, an executor should be at least 21 years of age at the time of the testator’s death. An executor must also not be bankrupt, and must be of sound mind.
As testator, you have the power to appoint any individual as the executor of your will. Of course, you must put a great deal of thought into this decision. After all, this individual will be handling your estate. You want him or her to carry out your will according to your wishes, and in a manner that conforms to all relevant laws.
By law, you may opt to appoint a family member or personal friend as your executor. It is also possible for your executor to be one of your beneficiaries. On the other hand, you may also opt to appoint a professional executor.
Deciding whether to appoint a professional executor depends on several things, including the complexity and size of the estate.
While a trusted relative or friend may be familiar with your family dynamics, being an executor comes with numerous legal and administrative responsibilities.
An executor should be able to act in the beneficiaries’ best interests, and without any conflict of interest. Among an executor’s major duties and responsibilities are:
It is a great burden for a mourning friend or relative to take on the multiple responsibilities that come with being an executor. Not too many people are familiar with the process of applying for a Grant of Probate, locating overseas assets, or ensuring that the estate of the deceased is tax compliant. Such duties may be overwhelming for someone who is unfamiliar with these matters.
An executor is in charge of safeguarding your assets and seeing to it that all matters are dealt with properly. Executing an estate may include managing trusts, dealing with tax issues, making investment decisions, and transferring property. A professional executor, whether he or she may be an individual lawyer or a trust company, possesses the legal and financial expertise to execute complex directives.
What if you want to create a trust for your minor children in your will? A professional executor will be able to act as a trustee, make sound decisions on any investments, and administer your child’s financial affairs until your child becomes of legal age.
Should your will be challenged, a professional executor will know how to handle such scenario. He or she will likely be able to anticipate any obstacles, as well as act pre-emptively to avoid any delays in the execution of your estate.
Should you have assets located overseas, a professional executor will be better qualified to locate those assets, and transfer them according to relevant laws.
When it comes to taxes and other financial matters, a professional executor will also be familiar with them and will be able to place a fair value on your assets.
One major responsibility an executor has is to preserve the value of your estate. Professional executors often work in teams, which allows for a combination of the expertise and skills necessary to execute this properly.
Lesley Gamwell was a senior manager at the Rountree Group. Media reports recounted that when Lesley’s mother died, Lesley’s sister was made the sole executor of the estate. Without consulting her siblings, the executor tried to sell their mother’s apartment at an amount much higher than similar apartments. As such, it took them almost four years to finalise the estate. The apartment eventually sold for $100,000 less than the purchase price.
In such scenario, did the sister preserve the estate’s value? Did she act in the interest of all her mother’s beneficiaries? Unfortunately, she did not. A professional executor has a legal duty to place a realistic value on all assets, as well as to act impartially.
All executors owe the estate’s beneficiaries a fiduciary duty. Executors may be held personally liable if the estate is not handled properly, even if the shortfall is caused by an honest mistake.
By choosing a family member or close friend as an executor, you would be subjecting them to fiduciary liability. Without meaning to, you could be placing a heavy financial burden on a loved one who is unfamiliar with the financial and legal implications of executing a will. Appointing a professional executor will protect your loved ones from possible financial liabilities and remove such fiduciary duty.
Unfortunately, it is a common sight to see families fight over estates in court. Disputes and conflicts become even more complex when there are family businesses involved, children from a previous marriage, or when a family member is appointed as an executor.
While the media does not cover all cases, there have been numerous known families fight over their inheritance in court. Among the more well-known cases is the sibling dispute over the estate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and he donated this prize money to advance the civil rights movement. He passed away in 1968 without a will and without appointing an executor, and so his three children controlled his estate. In 2014, against the wishes of their sister, the two brothers opted to sell the Bible carried by Dr. King during the civil rights movement in the 1960s. It was also a 2-1 vote to sell Dr. King’s Nobel Peace Prize Medal. The daughter was in possession of both the Bible and the medal at that point in time—and the estate sued her after she refused to hand off these items to the estate.
Unfortunately, this was not the only legal dispute that occurred amongst the siblings. Two of the siblings had also accused Dexter, one of the brothers, of wrongfully appropriating from the estate. As a result, Dexter refused to provide any of the estate’s financial records.
Three years of legal dispute between the King siblings ensued. The argument had gotten so out of hand that President Jimmy Carter had to act as mediator between the three siblings. In 2016, the court signed an agreement that ended the legal battle.
A professional executor could have prevented conflicts like these—any many other cases—from happening. After all, a professional executor acts impartially, and always in the best interests of the estate.
According to Singapore law, you do not have to pay the executor if he or she is not a professional executor. As such, many families opt not to hire a professional executor to save on costs. This, however, may not always be the best decision.
As mentioned above, administering an estate can be a complex matter. Friends or relatives may not have the expertise necessary to execute your estate, and may end up consulting or hiring one or more professionals to act on their behalf—attorneys, professional executors, tax experts, property experts, or financial experts. The cost, therefore, could end up being the same—if not more. A professional executor can typically offer a multifaceted and relevant skill set at a pre-determined rate.
If your estate is on the more complex or larger side, it may be best to consider hiring a professional executor who is likely to be more familiar with the legal and financial implications of executing an estate.
It must be noted that it is possible to have two or more executors—known as joint executors. It is possible to have a friend or relative carry out your wishes and more personal matters, while appointing a professional executor to handle the legalities and more complex matters.